I am the 403rd resident. Its true, I checked the register at the Sbitar(health clinic). In the next couple of weeks the register will have to be changed, marking the arrival of several new babies who are due to make their entrances here soon. But I am number 403 and I am fighting my way through meeting the 402 who go before me. Clearly, I am not meeting them in their birth order, but it does seem to be easier to meet the newer additions as opposed to the older.
When I first arrived, I imagined meeting 403 people would be an easily accomplished goal. I gave myself a month. Well, I’ve been a resident for over a month and am curious if I’ve even met a quarter of the population. Regardless of the number, each bit of the quarter has been quite wonderful.
To be honest population of Bouayache is a lot more than 404 people right now, but its only temporary so the Sbitar doesn’t have to chart it. This is because I live in the land of Apricots. And this is Apricot season. And well, someones got to pick the fruit.
I never remember a time in the States where I would have thought “i really would like an apricot right now.” I barely recall ever seeing an Apricot piled up in the produce department of a grocery store. The only thing I remember Apricots being in were those dried fruit and nut mixes and I hated them. To be fair, I hated all dried fruit not just the dried Apricots.
Now I am surrounded by this golden orange fruit. The past week has been devoted to making apricot jam. So far we’ve made about 7 gallons. From what I understand we have another five or so, to go. I’ve spent hours cutting up apricots and stirring large vats of amber colored syrup until it condenses into a sweet jam (the sweetness could also be because five pounds of sugar, give or take, is added to each pot).
Where do these Apricots come from? My town is situated at the base of Mountains. These beautiful mountains are snow capped in the wintertime (well, some just lost those caps last week) and eventually that snow melts into streams and springs. My town is in the desert. Imagine a desert like Arizona or New Mexico. It is red and dry, but prickly plants still manage to grow (and yes, I will make prickly pear jam soon!). Years ago a spring high up in the mountains was tapped by residents of Bouayache and now that water is brought down the mountain and a large portion of desert has been transformed into a large expanse of farm land.
Rather than farming crops such as watermellon or tomatoes, my town is full of fruit farmers. Every inch of available land is covered in trees. The orchards are beautiful; endless rows of apricots, apples, olives, pomegranates, pears and peaches . We, in the Midelt provence are especially known for our Apples and Apricots. Dirt paths allow me to wander through out endless trees and wild flowers. The irrigation canals babble as if they were natural brooks and the shade makes the orchards a good ten degrees cooler.
Families generally have farm animals as well. Usually it is a couple of sheep or goats, chickens, turkeys and maybe a cow or donkey. The animals live in the walled in compounds which also contain peoples houses (multi-generation units which usually has a courtyard at the center for family gardens full of vegetables and fruit trees, animals live in their own little mud brick houses in the courtyard). The only animals that leave the compound are the donkeys and cows. The donkeys are used for any and all work. The cows just eat. Since most of the compounds are in a more desert like area, cows are taken into the fields. Men will tie them to these leashes and stake the leashes into the ground. The cow stays there. The farmer generally does not.
The cows only have about five feet (if that) of leash and the paths/trails are not really taken into account by the farmer when he is taking the cow to pasture. Now, I love cows as any one who has even been to Young’s Jersey Dairy with me can attest. But, I’ll tell you what, I still get startled when I turn a corner and come face to face with a cow. They.Are.Huge.
My host sister doesn’t understand my fear of getting kicked by a cow. I however will go a good ten feet out of the way, even if this means going into a field, over an irrigation channel or completely backtracking to avoid startling or annoying a hungry cow. Especially if it is a mama cow and the baby cow is close by. Being pummeled by a cow would be an endlessly embarrassing way of ending my peach crops service. I’ll steer clear.
I spend many a days walking though the fields trying to remember if I’m in Morocco or simply on a U-Pick Fruit farm in Ohio. Only, this isn’t a U-pick farm. I however, pick enough fruit off the trees to satisfy my wish that it were. Every where you walk there is always an Apricot tree tempting you with its fruit that literally tastes like sunshine.
Every morning for the past three weeks or so residents and migrant pickers alike travel out to various orchards and spend the days packing fruit into wooden crates. These crates will go to markets all over the region. Some, I believe are even purchased by a jam company and turned into commercial sold jam.
The fruit harvest is a busy business. There is only a small window of opportunity to get all the fruit picked and then sent off. Since there are no refrigerated trucks (or storage units) in rural Morocco it makes the time even tighter. During my rambles in the orchards I often run across people working in the fields. It is the same as if I were to come to your multi-level office building and just walk around, peaking into cubicles and opening doors to closets. I’m walking through people’s offices. Luckily I live in a very friendly new town and rather than people getting annoyed at my random office tours, they are kind and often offer me tea. See, here you don’t go on a walk unless you have a specific destination. Just one of the many that make me so utterly strange here. Now I understand how the author of Stuff White People Like got the idea. I feel like I’m writing my own version here.
Besides being endlessly beautiful, my new town is full of a great deal of friendly people. People are busy, everyday fulfilling the mundane but necessary tasks of daily life. There is no running water so women and children go to the spring, which is on the edge of town and gather water every day. A trip to the spring can easily become a social engagement depending who you meet along the way! Rarely are you the only person at the spring. It still baffles me that half way though the year 2011 women and children are still gathering water. Just one of many things that makes me feel like a Pioneer. Seriously, all I need is a covered wagon and a bonnet and then you could just call me Laura Engels. Then I remember that every Moroccan family has satellite tv. So we are more modern pioneers I suppose.
I spend a lot of my time at the Sbitar hanging out with my counterpart. When the Sbitar is slow (read here: the sbitar is usually slow, with a few mild spurts a day) we usually go next door and hang out at the Post Office with the post man and the security guard. Here I am usually teased for my poor language skills, but they are patient and therefore I am able to practice at the same time. You see the post man speaks some English, so we make it work. Sometimes we have tea and I get to use my key to check my post office box. I’ve come to learn that I am the only person to have a post office box. Thats not true, but I’m the only person who has taken the key. Everyone else (all three other people) just leave the key in the lock. Not that the keys matter all that much. If you don’t have your key (or you aren’t keeping it in the lock for safe keeping) you can just reach behind and take your mail out the open back. I really like hanging out at my post office.
I just found a new tutor which is really exciting! He is working on his PhD, speaks better English than I do and so far has been an excellent teacher. My language skills are still a little rough around the edges and since moving to my new site, I am meeting a whole new slew of problems. The biggest is that I am in a Berber village. There are four main languages spoken in Morocco. Well five if you count French. One is Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and the other three are Berber languages. The Berber people are the native Moroccans and have endured a great deal of oppression throughout the centuries. Their languages have been preserved, especially in rural mountain communities such as mine. Darija is taught in school and along with French, is used in all official capacities. I’m learning Darija, but a lot of people (mainly women) in my village speak mainly a Berber language.
A lot of women in my village call me “meskina” and no, its not really a pet name. It means “poor thing.” Now, its never been made clear to me if this is because I don’t speak arabic well, i wear pants, or I’m unmarried.
So in case it is my lack of language I have a new approach: I generally can’t understand what is being said to be because it is said too fast or is a completely different language. I ask the speaker to repeat what they said once. If I still didn’t understand, well then I just think about a question I know the answer to and respond to that question. Someone could ask me anything (I mean i don’t know what they are saying, it could be will you be my wife to i need to find so and so, do you know where they are? etc.) and I’ll respond with “My name is grace and I live here.” or “this morning I ate breakfast and drank tea with mint.” or “I have a mom, dad, two sisters and a brother (in law) in America.” or “I like Apricots and walking through the fields. They are pretty.” or “I will live here for two years, god willing. Do you know of any houses I could rent?” Those are my six go to answers. Quality conversations I’m creating, i know, but it beats saying “wait...what did you say?? Can you repeat that? I don’t understand” every third minute.
Things I’ve learned so far:
-when in doubt just call every man Mohamed
-wheat flavored yogurt is amazing!!- do we have that stateside???
-the backseat of a taxi is so much more comfortable than the front, even if four people are smashed back there.
-Moroccans don’t go for walks unless they have somewhere they need to go
-when I met people I nicknamed them to myself based on what they would always wear. For example “puffy coat” is a man who would always wear a puffy coat. now that the weather has changed, so have the outfits, my nicknames still haven’t made the change over.
-Apricot trucks generally will take a nice girl to Midelt when there are no taxis available, although sometimes they require a three hour side trip to a well in the middle of the desert to pick up a compressor that doesn’t fit on the trucks jack. If thats the case a clothes line is produced and the compressor is tied to the back of the truck. Sometimes you make it five miles outside of the city only to have the tire on the compressor blow. Sometimes a free ride is totally worth the three hour adventure.
-turkish soap operas are amazing. all of them.
- marriage proposals and requests for phone numbers are best responded to with “this morning I ate bread for breakfast.” or “ohh, you weren’t asking what I had for breakfast? I don’t understand.”
- being a girl and looking for a house to rent is strange to people. living alone in general is weird. While I am already weird enough, I am still desperate to find my own house. So far, no luck.
- and finally, in honor of Americas Independence....What country was the first to recognize American Independence from England? MOROCCO!!
Thanks for reading, Team. I’m still figuring out my internet availability, but I promise to get better about updating this blog! At least I hope to...
Miss you all and hope everyone is doing well in, as they say here: use-ah (read: USA)! Keep me posted on everything going on stateside! I love mail and e-mails! :) You all are the BEST!!
love love love